Read: John 5:16-18
Following the outline from yesterday’s post, we’ll take a brief look at just three verses today. While this post is brief, I hope it allows you to focus on the few words and put yourself in the place of those present at the time.
John makes it clear that the Jewish leadership is beyond angry about His miracle work on the Sabbath. They are already formulating plans to eliminate Jesus. Why are they so angry? I think the answer comes from deep in the history of Israel all the way back to 1 Kings 12 when Jeroboam began the insurrection that led to the division of Israel into Northern and Southern Kingdoms and ultimately down a path of destruction. For a taste of Jeroboam’s leadership, read 1 Kings 12:25-33.
We can look back even further in history during the time Israel demanded a King. Perhaps this is a better starting point, but the Jewish leaders are unhappy about the Messiah coming as a king. They’re unhappy about the idea that the Messiah might look something like this Jesus character. I would suggest that they’re not looking for the Messiah at all, but that’s a bit bold and probably an overstatement.
Suffice it to say, because of rebellion in the past which led to the destruction of Israel, i.e., the divided kingdom that led to exile, Jewish leadership set up laws upon laws, rules about rules. Since the Sabbath was tied back directly to the Ten Commandments, everyone in the Sanhedrin could get angry about this transgression. I know that’s brief, but I hope that adds some perspective to their seemingly unfounded anger.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. John 5:16
If you agree that Jeroboam’s rebellion led to the destruction of Israel and that strict adherence to God’s law is paramount, then it’s easy to get behind this plot. We can’t let someone change the rules, because this will lead us back down the path of self-destruction.
Jesus tries to clarify His actions for them.
In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” John 5:17
Jesus is stirring the pot! If Jesus would have said, “You know that God never takes a day off,” there would have been little to discuss. God created the Sabbath for us, not Himself. That’s not the issue. The problem is that Jesus says, “My Father.”
Jesus suddenly states that He is the Son of God. He has a special relationship with God the Father that no one else can claim. John doesn’t give us any further dialog here, though I’d like to believe someone said, “excuse me, did You say, ‘My Father?’ Don’t You mean ‘Our’ Father?”
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18
From their myopic perspective, Jesus must be stopped now! The Jewish leaders can’t allow this to continue.
I can sympathize with them except for one thing: they were NOT listening.
What does this mean for us today?
At the very least, this short passage should challenge us to evaluate the way we have established traditions and rules, whether written or understood. It should force us to carefully assess why we do what we do.
We have the privilege of reading the Bible in a hundred different ways. This gives us an incredible perspective and a great advantage over John. Of course, he had the opportunity of being an eye-witness and the ability to interview those who saw these signs and wonders performed. That’s a pretty big advantage that allowed him to craft the message through the prompting of the Spirit that relates to us today. My point is this: if John was able to see through mindless traditions when he was steeped in the culture, so should we. We must not get so comfortable with the traditions we have created that we miss Jesus standing right in front of us today.